The theater is ephemeral, but film versions of Broadway hits are forever--if the film is properly preserved.
PEOPLE WHO NEED GROVER
A name you may not be familiar with--but should be--is Grover Crisp, who recently rode to the rescue of the Funny Girl film, which had been damaged from too much negative duping. We're told that the "People" scene alone had been practically destroyed: Can you imagine?
As vice president of film restoration at Sony Pictures Entertainment, the well-named Crisp is busily preserving our collective movie past and, in his can-can shuffles through the film vaults of Columbia Pictures, he has made some glorious finds. Two cases in point are movies made from well-known plays. One of them is Suddenly, Last Summer, the Tennessee Williams one-act that Williams and Gore Vidal adapted into an overheated Joseph L. Mankiewicz opus in which Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn arm-wrestled over the Oscar that ultimately went to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top. Crisp unearthed about two minutes of Summer dialogue that had been cut by the censors in 1959. "It was pretty strong stuff for the period because the play deals with homosexuality and homophobia and pedophilia and cannibalism," he says. "In fact, one of the lines about cannibalism in that film was cut and a shot inserted to camouflage the fact that the line had been cut. We managed to find everything and put it back in." The restored print recently premiered at a film festival in New Orleans, where the film is set.
Next year will see the theatrical reissue (and DVD release) of the 1972 movie version of 1969's Tony-winning 1776 with 40 minutes restored--including a major production number which then-President Nixon persuaded producer Jack Warner to cut. All the negatives were said to have been destroyed, but a long version was put together from a work print for a laserdisc about 10 years ago. "I didn't want to go back and make use of that old video transfer of the work-print version," explains Crisp. "So we started a search to see if the negative had indeed been thrown away--and it hadn't. We spent about six months piling through cans and found every bit of it--and all of the soundtrack as well, which we had to piece together from about five different source elements. We brought back the original director [Peter Hunt, who also directed the stage version], and he's supervising this recut and bringing it back as close as possible [to his original version]."
Gerry Bamman, the Nixon of Nixon's Nixon, and Laura Esterman, the Drama Desk Award winner of Marvin's Room, were set to do a revival of Richard Nelson's Vienna Notes at the McCarter in New Brunswick, N.J. But, after one reading, artistic director Emily Mann realized the play was too dark to do right now. Written in the '70s, it's about a politician reviewing his life and one section involves terrorism. Everybody bailed.
Esterman has moved on to True Love, the second of the three Love plays by Charles L. Mee. Following First Love at New York Theatre Workshop and preceding Big Love at BAM, True Love, will premiere November 15 at the new Zipper Theater on West 37th, co-starring Dallas Roberts.
Bamman is also gainfully employed. He's doing a play at Washington D.C.'s Round House called Shakespeare, Moses & Joe Papp, about the clash between Joe Papp and Robert Moses. Bamman plays the latter.
AS THE WORLD TURNS
Theater World editor John Willis will turn 85 on October 16 by returning to what comes naturally to him: acting. He'll play The Man Who Came to Dinner in a Morristown, Tennessee production. "I was never right for the role," he admits, postscripting slyly, "till now..."
...Down South is going British! Doug Field's sitcommy slice of life, which has become a sleeper hit at the Rattlestick Theater, will be recast from top to bottom over there...
...Till he's called up for Sondheim duty--double-duty at that, as both the Wolf and Rapunzel's Prince in the Broadway-bound Into the Woods--Christopher Sieber will stay put in another fairytale setting, playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. When the time comes, he'll be replaced by Chris Hock. This Disney hit is becoming a wonderful repository for first-class character comics. Mary Stout, the former Mrs. Fairfax of Jane Eyre and one of last week's wonderful Good Companions, is turning back into the chest-of-drawers, Madame de la Grande Bouche, on November 14 (she has done the part on the road). Already, Bryan Batt and Jeff Brooks are on board as Lumière and Cogsworth, respectively...
...Although John Cullum cavorted quite conspicuously when Urinetown played Off-Broadway last spring, the Drama Desk nominations went to lesser lights in the show: Jeff McCarthy and Spencer Kayden. Don't expect Tony to be so shortsighted: Cullum is very much in command now that the show has shifted operations to the Henry Miller Theatre. Says one cast member, "It's almost as if John went, 'Oh, yeah, Broadway. I know where I am.' "
JANA FROM HEAVEN
Jana Robbins--who proved her stellar qualities in Good News, in the Tyne Daly version of Gypsy, and in So Long, 174th Street--has been hiding her light under a bushel the last couple of years, understudying Linda Lavin/Valerie Harper and Michele Lee in Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. (What other actress could hit those disparate notes so perfectly?) She has gone on 15 times for Lavin and twice for Lee.
"If I had been with the show this long and really wasn't getting any stage time--as much as I love it and want to be with it--I would have to go find some place where I could act," admits Robbins. "An actress has to act." So, when she gets the chance to do that in the Busch play, she hits the Internet the way Eve Harrington used to hit the tom-toms, alerting the media (or at least her pals) via e-mail. Next sightings: She subs for Lee from October 27 through 31, and for Harper on November 4 and 6.